In Love with the Desert

Today (14th June), the Sydney Morning Herald ran a review of The Oldest Song in the World, a novel by Sue Woolfe. The review is written by Linda Morris, and starts as follows:

To the untrained eye, the central Australian desert is as empty of hope and joy as the car park of a shopping mall after closing time. But give it time, author Sue Woolfe advises, and the eye comes to discern its contours. A spindly gum stands, a lone wrinkle in the dazzling blue distance; in morning sun, an ant crosses the sand, its minute frame dwarfed by its longlegged shadow. 

The desert insinuates itself, Woolfe says, in a way city people who rule their landscape can never understand. The breathless midday heat smites speech and energy. In the silence, it’s possible to hear the rustle of a snake, and the desert colours – golds, russets and mauves – are so extraordinarily vivid they stick fast like flour and water to memory. 

‘‘I was only saying to somebody the other day, there are several things in your life which are real turning points,’’ says Woolfe, a blonde-haired, pixie-faced woman wearing strawberry-festooned gumboots. ‘‘Well, for me it was when I first went to university because suddenly I was not only permitted to read books but I was expected to; when I first fell sexually in love; when I became a parent; when I became a writer; and when I went to the desert.’’

I haven’t read the book, so can make no recommendation. Nor do I have any desire to encourage the wearing of “strawberry-festooned gumboots.” However, I can testify to the ability of the desert to create a turning point in one’s life. I happened to me back in 1971. Patricia and I were on our honeymoon, and found ourselves meandering through the Outback in a very inadequately prepared Austin 1800 sedan (with “fluid suspension”). We had a “tinnie” strapped to the roof rack, with the words “ ‘Er name’s Doreen ” emblazoned on the side in tyre black. (There’s a story there, but it’ll have to wait for some other occasion.)

Marrying Patricia was certainly a turning point, and arguably the best decision I ever made. Experiencing the desert was another turning point – and the beginning of a secondary love affair.

About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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4 Responses to In Love with the Desert

  1. Gillian says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Rob. The article you refer to had its effect, in your identifying two major and positive turning points in your life. It led me to consider what are positive turning points in my own life. Another article in that same Spectrum supplement is called For kin and country. It is about the Bangarra Dance Theatre’s new production Terrain and its choreographer Frances Rings, who believes, as I do, that ‘certain landscapes can heal us’. (For her, a healing place is Lake Eyre – her terrain.) She also says ‘There is something certain places do to us. They remind us instinctively of who we are’.
    So it’s good that the desert reminds you of those special turning points and reasserts who you are.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      I had the pleasure of seeing “Terrain” recently — wonderfully evocative stuff! The music, the sets, the dancers, and Frances Rings’ amazing choreography — all excellent, especially after having seen Lake Eyre only a few weeks ago, still with some water in it.

      Made me think of author David Tacey’s advice to us whities to seek our own indigeneity without “colonising” the culture and spirituality of our indigenous people.

  2. Jo says:

    I haven’t seen the article yet but was recently reminded of our ‘spirit spots’ in life. For me it is the Little Desert. Recently I was part of a fire brigade mock exercise. Looking for ‘lost and injured’ people in the dark, cold and rain is probably not my ideal Saturday night entertainment but sitting around in the bush going through a debrief afterwards was amazing. The clouds cleared, the moon was huge, stars glittered, the bush smells after rain, a group of people sitting quietly (exhausted) just absorbing all the calming sounds of the bush. Magic.
    Also magical was discovering ‘our family tree’ in the picnic area at the Little Desert Lodge. While wandering around having an in-depth conversation with a resident emu I found a tree to rest on and realised that most of the major events in my life have photos taken around that tree. A couple of weddings for me, my brother’s weddings, the last photos of another brother, my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. I am sure there are many others who would claim that it is their family tree too but that is the great thing about trees – they are willing to share.
    Thanks for the blog and prompting me to reflect on the important stuff.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Sounds like that tree is certainly one of your “sacred sites”, Jo. It can be an interesting exercise to make a list of one’s personal sacred sites — the places that have special significance for you.

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